By Alex Mehlin
In a giant breath I released a cloud of stress; I stepped out of the bus and into the drizzle, reached towards Apu and looked at my travel companions. They returned stale stares as if they had no idea that their first leg of Machupichu was a 4 hour hike into the lingering green mountains.
In order to reach Santa Teresa we drove an hour and a half down a one lane rock and dirt road, fording streams while narrowing squeezing over tattered wooden planks fitted together to form a bridge. In the United States there would have been a sign warning of the dangers of the road and suggesting, if not requiring, 4-wheel-drive vehicles. At times the road became no more then a strip of crushed rock cut out of the mountain side. A tire width to the left a deadly gorge dropped straight down thousands of feet. If that was not enough, razor rocks terrorized my psyche, threatening to rip our well worn tires apart.
As I stood outside a cool drizzle ran down my neck calming me as I began to reclaim my nerves. I took another look at The Gypsies and wondered if I had become a tour leader again? Nobody was moving, they were uncertain what to do for lunch where the hike began and when to leave. I didn’t have the answers, I like them just arrived in a new town however, I had no intentions of hiking to Machupichu.
When the Gypsy Train was only a brain child we were certain that we were not going to be a tour company. We wanted only to be a moving hostel and offer people a chance to get off the Gringo Trail. For the most part that’s what we do. We wake up with little to no idea where we are going to sleep, we have only a slight idea how long it takes to get any where and we don’t run on a time schedule.
Lately, I have been feeling unwanted stress. A few of our passengers have come with a time line. As the driver it is extremely hard to deal with this. I truly want to get people to set destinations on time, but it gets tricky. Roads are unpredictable, breakdowns are unavoidable, hangovers are incurable and illness is inevitable.
I understand how we began to fringe on being a tour company.
The Gypsy Train is now a well oiled machine. Pulling the parking brake each night triggers a series of events. Matthias takes out our box speakers and places them on the roof, Mike and Zach begin chopping up produce, Alaena butchers the meat, I set up the stove, take the chairs and bags off the roof, then go to gather fire wood while the rest of the crew takes on various assigned tasks. After dinner we relax next to a warm fire sipping tipped rum and listening to cool tunes.
In a sense we are much more like a commune of travelers rather then a tour group. To new members I can see how it feels like they are on a tour. As a result, questions like were we are going, what we are going to do and where we are going to sleep have become more of the norm. As people stay longer they begin to understand the working of the bus.
As Alaena, Matthais and I sat in Santa Terresa waiting for the others to get back from Machupichu we watched tour companies come and go. They were always the same. The guides put up tents then proceeded to start cooking dinner while the passengers sat around drinking beer or wine and discussing the days activities. They seemed happy to be paying the exuberant fees and in return being waited on hand and foot. I watched the tour leaders give their nightly talks, informing everyone what the next day entailed. The passengers listened intently while my brain erupted with laughter.
Watching the tour companies gave me great satisfaction in what the Gypsy Train has become. It opened my eyes to the fact that without the Gypsy Train we all would be just like every other gringo touring South America.
With a cold beer in hand, thirteen thousand gnats getting drunk off my flesh, while answering questions about The Gypsy Train delivered by curious travelers, I realized that a few deadlines and a hand full of stupid questions is a small price to pay for getting to live a life on the endless road to freedom.